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Thursday, 1 October 2009

Autumn (Keats, Winchester, 1819)


File:Claude Monet IMG 2065.JPG

In that last calm, fine temperate season before
First chill, I wanted to compose without this fever.
The air had a sharpness that kept my blood warm.
On the night coach back from London, I resolved
For books, fruit, French wine, and a little fine
Music out of doors -- like Mr. Pepys, who said
He liked to play his flageolet in his garden
A little, on nights when the moon shone full.
Or to loll on a lawn by some old dark water
Lillied pond, eat white currants and see gold
Fish, or go to the fair if I am good -- and feel
How a stubbled plain brushed by a calm looks warm.

File:Claude Monet IMG 2066.JPG

Les Nymphéas: Claude Monet, 1916-1919 (Musée de l'Orangerie): photos by Deror avi (2009)
from TC: Junkets on a Sad Planet: Scenes from the Life of John Keats


Jenny said...

The combination of looking at Monet paintings while autumn is approaching is enchanting. I have thought about this before and it was nice to be reminded of this feeling.

This morning the grass in the back garden was all covered in frost, which is early even for this part of the world.

Phanero Noemikon said...

gorgeous.. thank you tom.

TC said...

Jenny, Lanny,

Many thanks for these kind comments from two fellow poets to whom I bow down.

This first in this sequence of eleven John Keats posts with texts extracted from my "Junkets" (1994) begins the final chapter of the poet's life story around the time of his writing of perhaps his greatest poem, the valedictory "To Autumn", testament of a deep sense of acceptance and resignation which has always seemed to me remarkable in an artist of such a relatively tender age (23).

In a letter from this place (Winchester) at about this time (Sept. 21, 1819), Keats wrote to his friend J.H. Reynolds:

"How beautiful the season is now -- How fine the air. Really without joking, chaste weather -- Dian skies -- I never liked stubble fields so much as now -- Aye better than the chilly green of the spring. Somehow a stubble field looks warm -- in the same way that certain pictures look warm -- the thought struck me so much in my Sunday's walk that I composed upon it..."

Jenny, maybe it's lucky for us that the southwest of England gets its first frost a bit later than your northern regions, else frozen fingers might have nipped Keats' wondrous harvest-time ode in the bud.

~otto~ said...

You always nail the landing. I have said this in my mind a dozen times already: "How a stubbled plain brushed by a calm looks warm."

Nora said...

I camped out in a local farm's fallow fields the other night, and walking along the road as the sun rose the next morning with fields of sunflowers on one side and the harvested pumpkin patches on the other felt downright Keats-y. Especially when I found a forgotten pumpkin in the field to take home for supper.

TC said...


Thanks for feeling that one, the slowness there.

TC said...


Yes, autumn always feels like Keats season to my inner pumpkin too.

Pile of Pumpkins in Lull, for Nora

TC said...

Speaking of To Autumn...those who take pleasure in Keats's poem might be interested in taking a look at his manuscript draft, done in Winchester in the early Fall of 1819. Here he can be seen composing swiftly and decisively but also with precision and care, as each of his several working revisions marks a step up to a new level for the poem. His only passage of difficulty seems to have come in the second stanza, esp. lines 15-16, here we can feel for him as he searches for easier rhyme words yet keeps his mind on the problem at hand: to draw a complete and vivid picture of Autumn.

When one views the manuscript up close one makes out his several fruitful "slips of the pen" which of themselves create mini-poems, as when he writes of the recumbent Autumn's "hair soft-lifted by the winnowing wind", and it comes out "winmowing". One can perhaps then see in that line "mis-written" an image of her hair being both winnowed and mown, as field-grass is, by the soft breeze. (His drafts are often little orthographic hypertextual museums.)

The poem's always in my mind this time of year, as we lose the warmth and light yet try to stretch the days that remain to the utmost...

To Autumn ms. (first page)

To Autumn ms. (second page)

Season of mists and mellow fruitfulness,
Close bosom-friend of the maturing sun;
Conspiring with him how to load and bless
With fruit the vines that round the thatch-eves run;
To bend with apples the moss'd cottage-trees,
And fill all fruit with ripeness to the core;
To swell the gourd, and plump the hazel shells
With a sweet kernel; to set budding more,
And still more, later flowers for the bees,
Until they think warm days will never cease,
For summer has o'er-brimm'd their clammy cells.

Who hath not seen thee oft amid thy store?
Sometimes whoever seeks abroad may find
Thee sitting careless on a granary floor,
Thy hair soft-lifted by the winnowing wind;
Or on a half-reap'd furrow sound asleep,
Drows'd with the fume of poppies, while thy hook
Spares the next swath and all its twined flowers:
And sometimes like a gleaner thou dost keep
Steady thy laden head across a brook;
Or by a cyder-press, with patient look,
Thou watchest the last oozings hours by hours.

Where are the songs of spring? Ay, where are they?
Think not of them, thou hast thy music too, -
While barred clouds bloom the soft-dying day,
And touch the stubble-plains with rosy hue;
Then in a wailful choir the small gnats mourn
Among the river sallows, borne aloft
Or sinking as the light wind lives or dies;
And full-grown lambs loud bleat from hilly bourn;
Hedge-crickets sing; and now with treble soft
The red-breast whistles from a garden-croft;
And gathering swallows twitter in the skies.

October 6, 2009 1:20 AM

EKSwitaj said...

And now it seems that the field which inspired "To Autumn" has been made a car park.

TC said...

Yegads, that is wrenching to cast eyes upon!